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Bring Clarity to Your Business with One Deceptively Simple Thought Experiment

Jocelyn K. Glei shows how the question of purpose can be make-or-break for a new business
by Conor O'Rourke | Apr 7 2015
Here’s how to apply her lessons to your own work.


Though it might sound strange, many startups and entrepreneurs struggle to answer a simple question: “Why does your business exist?” Many point to their product’s awesome features, or talk about how their service is cheaper than the competition. Yet these replies don’t answer the whole question.

In Make Your Mark, Jocelyn K. Glei makes the case that regardless of what you offer, or why it’s better than the competition, you will never be successful unless you can answer this simple question. Why? Because the answer outlines your purpose.

Every successful business has at its core a purpose which aims to satisfy a need. No matter how many features your product may have, if it doesn’t solve someone’s problem, it can’t succeed.

This purpose forms the core of a business’s brand identity, determines its target demographic, and influences almost every aspect of it.

So, before you even begin your business venture, you need to figure out your purpose: why does your business exist? For example, Nike is famous for its innovations, connections with sports stars, and cool image. Yet behind all this lies a purpose: to help people reach their athletic potential.

By looking at Nike through this lens, it’s easy to see how what was originally a shoe company can also sell phone cases—Nike phone cases are heavy-duty, with built in velcro straps, meant for the active lifestyle of an athlete. Though it’s now selling something that has nothing to do with shoes, Nike has managed to stay on brand because the product serves its defining purpose.

As your business develops, you will need to constantly ensure that your actions align with your purpose. One way to do this is by asking the simple question: how does this serve our purpose?

The Purpose Filter


Imagine a magazine aimed at students of UCLA. Determining its purpose is quite simple: the magazine should provide information that is relevant to the student body of UCLA. Just like that, the simple thought exercise of defining a purpose has already provided a content filter and an editorial POV.

Now, when the Editor-in-Chief is deciding whether or not to include a certain piece of content, the decision flows directly from her magazine’s stated purpose: is this content useful to UCLA students?

These same criteria make it possible to create and fine-tune new content types without diluting the brand. When considering whether to add new section about apartment rentals, the editor might make it a point to only include lower-cost apartments near the campus: those most likely to be rented by students. By these same criteria, an article on tropical luxury vacation spots might be missing the mark a little bit—unless it was being published during spring break.

By defining a purpose for your business, you build a defining principle that can help you not only make decisions about what features, content, or services not to include, but can also lead you to new ones that you should include. The question “does this serve our purpose” can be more inspirational than it is prescriptive.

If you’re thinking about starting a business, make sure that you’re responding to a need. Knowing your business’s purpose will help you define the areas you should focus on as well as those you should not. It will lead you to new business opportunities and help you avoid unnecessary distractions.

Jocelyn K. Glei provides a lot more insights on starting a business in her new book, Make Your Mark. You can also read the book’s key insights on Blinkist – it’ll only take 15 minutes!

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